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Physics Education: Making it Better (?) Peter Main Director, Education and Science Teacher Update, University of Sussex 23 March 2013

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Presentation on theme: "Physics Education: Making it Better (?) Peter Main Director, Education and Science Teacher Update, University of Sussex 23 March 2013"— Presentation transcript:

1 Physics Education: Making it Better (?) Peter Main Director, Education and Science Teacher Update, University of Sussex 23 March 2013,

2 Plan l Emerging from the gloom: some statistics l Standards and Assessments l Curriculum l Widening Participation l Summary


4 When I arrived at the Institute in 2002 l The was no such thing as a physics teacher – only science teachers l We needed ~ 700 new physics teachers a year to stop numbers falling further and were getting 300 – 400 l A-level numbers had fallen from ~ 55,000 in the mid-eighties to ~ 27,000 l The number of universities offering a physics degree had fallen from 72 to 46 l ….and everyone was very miserable

5 The Good News! l Government set separate targets for physics chemistry and biology teachers l IOP marketing campaign and government and IOP offer ITT Scholarships l Record ITT entries for last 3 years l 5 departments (re-)introducing new physics degrees l University entrants rocketing l A-level numbers recovering well

6 HE Statistics: Gathering Statistics

7 A-levels: Statistics

8 Physics Teachers l In 2011, IOP identified a shortage of > 4000 specialist teachers (out of 10000 - 11000) l Estimated ~1000 recruits a year for 15 years to restore parity with chemistry and biology (average was ~ 400 a year) l Managed to persuade government to introduce Physics with Maths as a teaching route l Now beginning to reach required levels and with 50% of entrants with good degrees


10 Future? l School Direct l Government seems very keen…. l …but huge issues l Expert Teachers l Keeping good teachers in classroom l Expert Teacher status l Career route via external developmental activity


12 Grade Severity of A-levels

13 2011 question Explain what is meant by work done [1] A car is travelling along a road that has a uniform downhill gradient as shown The car has a mass 850kg. The angle of the road is 7.5 o. Calculate the component of the weight of the car down the slope (units given) [2] The car travels at a constant speed of 25 m s -1 and the driver applies the brakes to stop the car. The constant force resisting the motion is 4600N (i) Show that the deceleration of the car is 4.1ms -1 (equation given) (ii) Calculate the distance the car travels from when the brakes are applied to when the car comes to rest [2] (equation and units given) (iii) Calculate the loss in KE of the car (equation and units given) [2] (iv) The work done by the resisting force (units given) [1] (v) Explain why the two quantities in (iii) and (iv) are not equal [1]

14 1986 question A model electric train of mass 1kg runs on a level track at a steady speed of 0.4ms -1. The resistance to forward motion is 4N. (i) What is the magnitude of the forward force exerted by the engine [1] (ii) Calculate the power required to maintain this speed [2] (iii) Calculate the current required to produce this power from a 12V battery [2] (iv) Calculate the extra power required when this train climbs a slope of 1 in 20 (see diagram) at the same steady speed. [3]

15 Comparison l In 1986 no formulae or units given l Much less structured in 1986: final part more demanding l In 1986 synthesis of electricity and mechanics

16 O-levels and A-levels l Up to late 1980s, Physics O-level was optional (numbers increasing year by year) l A-levels numbers ~ 50,000 (cf ~30,000 today) l At age ~16, pupils spent about 12.5% of their time on Physics, if they did it l When GCSEs and double science came in, pupils spent about 6.7% of their time doing physics (then there was HSW…)

17 A-levels: Mathematics l Mind the Gap report on the degree to which physics and engineering students are prepared mathematically for their courses l Followed up with a seminar involving DfE, Ofqual and all awarding bodies l SCORE report Mathematics in Science: awarding bodies not even assessing the mathematics they have in the specifications

18 A-levels: Mind the Gap (IOP 2011)

19 A-levels: Ofqual Review l I am troubled by reports from learned bodies such as the Institute of Physics. Letter from Michael Gove to Ofqual, April 2012 l We will want to be sure that respected university departments and learned societies support the content defined for each new A level. Letter from Glenys Stacey (CEO Ofqual) to Michael Gove

20 Adding it all up l Physics is the hardest A-level l Physics A-level is much easier than it used to be…. l ….when there were 60+% more people taking it l Big step from GCSE to A-level l Universities feel there is not enough maths in physics A-level one hell of a mess

21 HE Statistics: destinations of A-level students l 85% of those with A-level physics also had A-level maths or FM l ~97% of students with A-level physics go to university, most to do STEM(M) subjects l Only ~10% of Physics A-level students choose to follow a physics degree (around 25%-30% go to engineering) l 46% of physics entrants had >480 UCAS points (math 40%, chem 30%, bio 21%, EE 14%)


23 A-level Assessment: the Proposals l Mr Gove asked Russell Group to advise on A-levels l They have reluctantly agreed for the facilitating subjects, including physics l But they have told us that they want no part to play in assessment l Therefore, it is likely current race to the bottom will continue with awarding bodies unchecked. l Also decoupled AS-levels from A-levels (whatever that means)

24 A-level Assessment: what the IOP would like l National Subject Committees l Convened by independent body (learned society where appropriate) l No commercial interest in process l Involves academics, teachers and employers l Sets criteria for content l Sets criteria for assessment l Plays a role in monitoring assessment

25 GCSE Assessment: the proposals l More challenging GCSEs l Totally opaque process for setting criteria – no real consultation l For EBAC, students must take 3 sciences out of 4 (now includes Computer Science) and pass 2. (i.e. can drop a core science after KS3) l New school accountability proposals at KS4 l Super 8 replaces 5 GCSEs at A* to C l Super 8 has English, maths + best 3 EBAC subjects + best 3 others l Calculated on a value-added basis

26 GCSE Assessment: the Future l With the majority of schools not following the National Curriculum, it is vital we get the KS4 exams right. l Ideally, the GCSEs could also be in national subject committees l We must protect laboratory work l Why do we need more than one awarding body? (as opposed to more than one specification) l


28 What do we want from a physics curriculum? l Needs to be coherent with what goes before and what comes after l Needs to be coherent with other subjects l Needs to give everyone an authentic feel of what physics is (including lab work) l Needs to challenge and excite (or is that the teachers?)

29 Definitions (Concise Oxford Dictionary) l Biology l Study of living organisms l Chemistry l Study of the elements, the compounds they form and the reactions they undergo. l Physics l Science dealing with the properties and interactions of matter and energy (!)

30 My definition of physics l …a way of thinking, a reductionist view of the world where phenomena can be understood in terms of a relatively small number of physical laws and limited only by the complexity of a system or phenomena. l Consequences: l This reductionist definition purposely removes reference to content. l It distinguishes the physicist from the engineer. l The process develops critical thinking skills. l The process requires mathematical manipulations. l The process also requires careful measurement and instrumentation.

31 The Big Ideas of Physics l Reductionism. l Causality l Universality l Mathematical modelling l Conservation l Equilibrium l Differences cause change l Dissipation and irreversibility. l Symmetry and broken symmetry.

32 Thinking Like a Physicist l critical thinking and scepticism l deep understanding l seeking consistency l quantitative understanding l developing models of systems l simplifying situations to their core elements l Approximation. Limiting cases etc. l isolating phenomena to test experimentally l refining models through the sequence of experiment -> model -> prediction -> test; l accepting explanations that are beyond common sense.

33 Making the curriculum better l Can we bring some of these ideas into the teaching of physics in schools? l SCORE (us, the RSC, SB, ASE and Royal Society) have published guidelines on how to make good science GCSEs: see l Guidelines include suggestions on practical work l See also article in Physics World, April 2013


35 Areas of Concern l Two Major Issues l Girls in Physics l Socio-economic background l Also l Ethnicity – project in West London school – large increase in A-level numbers l STEM Disability Committee

36 Raising Aspirations in Physics l Working with a school in the NE l Already identified many issues: l Lack of parental knowledge of the system l Lack of parental knowledge of what jobs there are l Students lack confidence and can be intimidated by many interventions l Basic literacy and numeracy l No physics department in Newcastle University

37 Girls in Physics

38 1 English63838 2 Psychology41308 3 Biology35664 4 Art and Design subjects34523 5 Mathematics34301 6 History26491 7 Sociology23514 8 Chemistry23260 15 French8593 16 Economics8037 17 Law7994 18 Physics7361 19 Design and Technology7298 20 Political Studies6591 24 Spanish4871 25 ICT4284 26 Mathematics Further 3972 27 Music 3790 36 Irish 203 1Mathematics51413 2Biology27410 3Physics27148 4Chemistry25974 5English25800 6History25161 14Physical Education11030 15Design and Technology9807 16Mathematics Further9251 17Political Studies8669 18Sociology7843 19Religious Studies7298 20ICT6804 24Drama4763 25Other modern languages4020 26French3918 27Computing3512 36Irish101 A-level subjects for female students 2012 A-level subjects for male students 2012

39 Its Different for Girls An exploration of data from the National Pupil Data-base l Looking at progression to A-level physics from different types of school at KS4. l Assuming that pupils experience of KS4 will be a critical factor in choice of A levels. l Are there patterns in the type of school where pupils sat their GCSEs and progression on to A-level physics?





44 Personal observations on the report 1. The quality and enthusiasm of the physics teacher seems to have a greater effect on girls than on boys, particularly in co-ed schools 2. The school culture, the can-do attitude for girls, makes a difference as to whether girls take A-level physics 3. Advice on educational pathways and outreach activities must take into account the way that the girls see themselves at different stages. 4. Schools need to find a way to combat gender-stereotyping. Some are much worse than others

45 Girls in Physics: what we would like to happen l Ofsted to help schools take their Public Sector Diversity Duty seriously l Benchmarking against national figures in stereotyped subjects (physics, MFL etc.) l A move away from the tried and Inadequate exercises (role models, special workshops etc.) to new projects

46 Girls in Physics: new ideas l Benchmarking and Ofsted l Contacting Heads and governors in schools guilty of worst stereotyping and offering resources to combat gender stereotyping. l Priming: convincing girls they are good at the subject l Girls taking responsibility: Physics is a Feminist Issue l Whole school work with all teachers

47 SUMMARY l Physics is actually in better health than for decades – golden opportunity to make it even stronger l Assessment regimes in school like a house with opportunities for the DIY expert – it is not fit for purpose l There are once-in-a-generation opportunities if we can grasp them

48 Points to Discuss l Standards l National Subject Committees and assessment l Transition to HE l Safeguarding laboratory work l Dealing with awarding bodies l School accountability l Expert Teachers l How to include the big ideas of physics l Girls in Physics measures

49 Thank You! Professor Peter Main Director, Education and Science SEPnet Teacher Update University of Sussex 23 March 2013,

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